Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky announces a new deal that will lower the cost of existing generic drugs. ((CBC))

Most generic drugs in Alberta will soon cost patients and the province less, after a new provincial agreement with national drug chains and Alberta pharmacists.

"We have a deal and the deal is a new agreement on the price of existing generic drugs," Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky announced Thursday.

"Effective April 1st, the price of existing generic drugs will be reduced from 75 per cent down to 56 per cent of the price of comparable brand name drugs."

The price reduction is part of the province's pharmaceutical strategy announced in October. At that time, the price of new generic drugs was reduced — to 45 per cent of comparable brand name drugs from 75 per cent.

The province had hoped to strike the same deal for existing generics, Zwozdesky said, but was unsuccessful.

'You can't always get everything you want'

"You have to come up with a deal that the majority of the pharmacists and pharmaceutical providers can live with, and while 45 may have been a target, you know you can't always get everything you want."

The province expects to save between $90 million and $100 million from its annual drug costs of about $1.2 billion.

Earlier this week, an organization representing about 100 independent pharmacies in the province took out full-page newspaper ads expressing concern that reducing drug prices could cost each drugstore about $200,000 a year.

But the provincial strategy also includes money to allow pharmacists to expand the services they can offer to include consultations, medication reviews and immunizations.  

'Very, very positive move'

"This is a very, very positive move on behalf of government during really tough times," said Margaret Wing, acting executive director for the Alberta Pharmacists' Association.

"Pharmacists now have an opportunity to provide professional services and be compensated for that."

The announcement also brought praise from Liberal MLA Kevin Taft.

"Give credit where credit is due," he said. "Any steps the government takes to contain spending and costs on drugs — which are well recognized, as the minister said, as the fastest cost driver in the system — is a good step."

Still, Taft suggested the province should be working towards a comprehensive pharmacare program that would allow even more bargaining power when it comes to deals with the pharmaceutical industry.